The PS4 is off to a strong start in 2017. We’ve only just entered February and we’ve already seen quality titles like Resident Evil 7, Gravity Rush 2 and Kingdom Hearts 2.8HD come out. This month continues the trend, as Nioh is another quality title – and another exclusive for Sony’s console as well.
I have to admit, upon seeing the first pieces of artwork for Nioh, I thought this was going to be a cross between the setting of Dynasty Warriors and the gameplay of something like Heavenly Sword – which sounded wonderfully exciting to me. I quickly learned that Nioh was much more of an action RPG instead, and after having played it I can join others in saying that indeed is it not Dynasty Warriors meets Heavenly Sword, but rather Team Ninja’s own Ninja Gaiden meets From’s Dark Souls.
Perhaps surprisingly to Team Ninja fans, the game leans more towards Dark Souls than it does to Team Ninja’s previous work – and this translates directly to a few of the game’s dynamics. When you fall in battle, you lose the items and experience points you’ve gathered up to that point, but they stay in the level at the spot where you met your untimely demise. Make it back there on your next attempt and they’re yours to pick up, fail to get there and they are lost forever. If you’ve played any of the Dark Souls titles this is instantly familiar, and other titles have since followed suit.
Nioh is also a punishingly difficult title at times, often due to difficulty spikes where I would be surprised if they got patched in a future update. This high level of challenge is of course also similar to Dark Souls, but there are plenty of differences to be found as well – one of the most important ones being the introduction of a Ki meter. Ki can loosely be translated to “energy” or “stamina”, and once it’s depleted you’re left gasping for air and in a very vulnerable spot – likely getting you killed. Because of this, you’ll think twice before you employ a button mashing gameplay style, as wildly slashing your weapon around is a quick way to exert yourself. Luckily, Ki can also be replenished – and it does so automatically when you’re just walking around or standing still. There is a way to replenish Ki in combat as well, and that’s by correctly timing a press of the R1 button after you land a successful attack. There is a blue hue that will alert you to this and can help in timing things right, but if you time incorrectly the results will be the opposite and you’ll replenish Ki slower rather than faster.
Nioh takes place in a fictionalized Japan of the 1600s, where demonic creatures cross your path as you chase an enemy. Your protagonist is not actually a Japanese character himself though, but rather a westerner called William Adams – even though he rocks his fair share of ninja moves. The controls and the approach to storytelling are welcoming, with the game taking you by the hand to explain the narrative through cutscenes and with plenty of (optional) tutorials that are available as you play and unlock new abilities – in that sense, it’s a more mainstream approach than Dark Souls takes. One of your abilities is the option to choose between various stances for your character – ranging from offensive to defensive in nature. One obvious way to use an offensive stance is when an enemy is temporarily stunned and you want to deliver a critical blow, but effectively changing mid-battle is something that takes practice.
Obvious RPG influences can be seen in the game’s loot system and the way you can replay previous missions to grind and upgrade your character. When you hit a difficulty spike, this becomes a bit of a necessary chore, but other than that it’s a well implemented system that rewards you for exploring and undertaking optional side quests – finding a rare item or upgrading at a blacksmith’s is as fun here as it is in a game like Diablo. The heart and soul of the game is in its combat though, and that is executed extremely well – it’s fast, it’s flowing, and the inclusion of the Ki system makes for a strategic approach to battle. I would even go so far as to say that the combat is better than what Dark Souls offers – even though that game offers better boss fights and slightly more polish. That’s not to say the Nioh isn’t great in its own right – it’s another winner on the PS4 and Sony is continuing its assault on gamers’ wallets.